Deceased July 8, 2018

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In Memory

I am sorry to report our loss, this past July, of Bill Taylor. I met Bill shortly after my arrival at Amherst in the fall of 1971. Peter Trinkaus ’75 and I had discovered the rock-climbing potential of the north wall of Barrett Hall and had begun working out there on warm afternoons. We were soon joined by several other climbers, among them Bill, who soon became one of my closest Amherst friends. We discovered that we both lived in SE Pennsylvania, so in addition to climbing trips, we often traveled to and from college together. (He had a car.) We also found out about an open gym session twice weekly with the UMass gymnastics team and equipment, and that became a regular part of our routine for the next three years, to supplement our training for rock-climbing. 

Bill’s early months at Amherst were frustrating and academically unsatisfactory. Planning to be a biology major, he found that his interests had little in common with those of the department. (At that time the department was all about intracellular research and genetics. Bill’s concern was wildlife and ecosystems.)  And although there were several Five-College offerings that did interest him (he highly recommended “Wetlands Wildlife Management” at UMass!), none of these could count toward the major at Amherst. He took a few of these courses, but the rest of his grades suffered and he ended up on academic probation by mid-sophomore year. Fortunately, about this time he found an affinity for anthropology/archaeology, and his work improved so much he received an award for the “most academic improvement” the following term! (The bitterness and absurdity of this period came, fortunately, to be a source of amusement to him later on.)

But what Bill really lived for in those years were his summer trips west. Initially these were simply rock-climbing and high-mountain/late-season ski trips. (He was a great skier!) However, he soon found that there was abundant employment in the burgeoning growth of new ski towns. This solved the problem of trip expenses and helped with tuition as well. So Bill became part of the cadre of seasonal employees who provided the physical labor that built places like Telluride, Colo. After graduation, he headed further west, landing somewhat randomly in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which at the time was just entering the “rapid growth phase.” When it was too cold for construction, there was work for the Mountain, at various sport shops, and shoveling snow off roofs. There was also, already at this time, a solid community of expert skiers and climbers—a perfect fit for Bill. During the late ’70s and early ‘80s, he partnered with several members of this group on a number of first ascents in Tuolumne and the eastern Sierra, along with a few challenging back-country ski descents. In 1977 he met Sherry, his future wife and the love of his life. The following year, his anthropology/archaeology background landed him a job with the Forest Service, doing site evaluations, impact statements and helping to formulate administrative plans for the myriad new projects in the Inyo National Forest (which included both the mountain resort and the village of Mammoth). When, in 1985, the village began the process of incorporation as a town, he was the logical choice to be the interim town planner, helping to develop a vision for the future of the community, and guiding the efforts to achieve those goals through the intricacies of California and Forest Service regulations.

For the next 20-plus years, Bill served the town of Mammoth Lakes, eventually becoming the deputy director of community development. It is safe to say that few, if any, important projects were created in the town or the district without Bill’s well-informed and carefully-considered input. He was a strong advocate for the environment, for quality education, quality affordable housing, well-conceived recreational development, conservation of Native American and historical sites, fire and earthquake safety and preparation and preservation of the better elements of the original “ski-town” ethos. Among many achievements, he helped to develop the M. L. Housing Board, the recreational easement(s) along Mammoth Creek and the air quality control ordinance. He retired in 2006 but continued to consult on various projects in the region and to serve on the Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Board. 

In 1979-80 Bill and Sherry built (largely by their own labor) a lovely log home. A few years later, with two growing boys, they built and moved to a larger home. Terrific parents, they introduced Nathan and Davis to all the natural wonders and outdoor activities that the area offered. Nothing pleased Bill more than the time spent with his wife and sons: camping, traveling, XC skiing, hiking the mountains and deserts of their region. Always happy to see friends, they welcomed many visitors over the years, hosting my family multiple times over nearly three decades. Highlights of my times with Bill include trying to learn to telemark ski, several moonlight XC ski excursions with our wives and kids and climbs of the East Buttress of El Capitan (5.10, IV), the  Northwest Corner of Fairview Dome (5.9, III) and Crest Jewel on North Dome (5.10, III). After retirement, Bill had more freedom to devote to family and outdoor interests, and his wife and friends were looking forward to many more years of shared adventures. Sadly, he began to have vague and troubling health problems over the past two years, becoming severely ill at the end of last year, with bone marrow abnormalities and respiratory failure. He spent seven difficult months in the hospital, finally succumbing to complications of acute leukemia in early July.

A local obituary commented on Bill’s “great intellect, love of the outdoors and sense of civic responsibility.” It goes on, “He brought collaboration and respect to every meeting he attended, letter he wrote and community effort in which he participated.” That sounds like the Bill I knew; the world would be a better place with more people like him. We will miss you, my friend. 

Bruce Thompson ’75